The Supreme Court Wednesday dismissed the central government's plea for a review of its Jan 21 order which said unexplained and inordinate delay in deciding mercy petitions was a ground for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment.
Condoning the government delay in filing the review petition, the bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh said: "Permission for hearing in open court is rejected. We have carefully gone through the review petitions and connected papers. We find no merit in the review petitions and the same are accordingly dismissed."
The court Jan 21 said there can be no distinction between people convicted under anti-terror laws or normal criminal laws for seeking commutation of death sentence on the grounds of inordinate and unreasonable delay in deciding the mercy petition by the president.
The court said this also included death row convicts suffering from insanity or mental illness or schizophrenia.
The court earlier commuted the death sentence of 15 convicts.
In cases of 13 death row convicts, it was on account of years of delay in deciding the mercy petitions and in respect of two, it was due to mental illness.
The same judgment was relied on by three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case in getting their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
It is now being relied upon by Navneet Kaur - wife of 1993 Delhi terror convict Devinderpal Singh Bhullar - to seek commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment on grounds of delay in deciding his mercy petition and his mental health.
A review petition was taken up for consideration by the judges.
The central government March 1 moved the Supreme Court, seeking a recall of its verdict holding that inordinate, unexplained and unreasonable delay in deciding mercy petitions by the president was a ground for commutation of death sentence, and it would not exclude those convicted under anti-terror laws.
The centre said the president's decision to reject mercy petitions could not have been interfered with by the court as it was not subject to judicial review.
It had contended that the court could not have substituted life imprisonment for death sentence while exercising its power of judicial review of the president's decision to reject the mercy petitions.
The centre also argued that if at all the court was of the view that the mercy petitions were not properly considered, then these could have been returned to the president for reconsideration.
The petition to to the Supreme Court recall its Jan 21 verdict said the president or the governor were not required to spell out any reason for deciding mercy petitions either way.
The centre also said the scope of judicial review was extremely limited and ought not to have been exercised except on the grounds of mala fide, political expediency, extraneous factors, undue haste and non-applicability of mind to the material available before the president.